Cherokee County, North Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2020)



Cherokee Native Americans


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

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1820s / From Macon County

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Historical Post Offices

American Revolution

American Civil War

Significant Education Events

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Battles & Skirmishes / Troops

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Airports in Cherokee County

Maps of Cherokee County

Books About Cherokee County

Genealogy Sources

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A History of Cherokee County

Cherokee County Court House

Cherokee County was formed in 1839 from Macon County. It was named in honor of the Indian tribe who still live in the western part of the state. It is in the western section of the state and is bounded by the states of Georgia and Tennessee, and Graham, Swain, Macon and Clay counties. The present land area is 455.19 square miles and the population in 2010 was 27,444. The courts were ordered to be held at one of the houses at Fort Butler until a court house could be erected. Fort Butler was in the town of Murphy. Murphy has the county seat ever since. 

In 1820, the Reverend Evan Jones established a Baptist Mission School at Old Natchez Town on the Hiwassee River near the present Peachtree Community.

A trading post was established near the conjunction of the Hiwassee and Valley Rivers in 1828. It was built on the southwest side of the Hiwassee and across from the mouth of the Valley River. The trading post consisted of a two-story log house. The settlement eventually became known as Huntington.

In 1835, treaties were made which took the lands from the Cherokees because the white men coveted the Indians' rich, fertile land and fast, rolling rivers. With the demise of the titles to the land, the Cherokee Nation were forced to be moved west to Oklahoma. Between 1836 and 1838, six forts were built to house the Cherokees in preparation for the removal. The largest was Fort Butler which was built on the Hiwassee River near Huntington. This fort was later used as a court house until a court house could be built in Murphy. 7,000 troops, under the leadership of General Winfield Scott, were sent to round up the Cherokee Indians and escort them to Oklahoma, over 800 miles to the west.

The county is rich in natural resources and logging was the area's first industry, and the primary means of making a living. Logs were floated down the rivers and streams to nearby sawmills. Rafts, flatboats, and canoes brought in supplies.

Following the American Civil War, the Georgia & North Carolina Railroad reached Murphy from Marietta, Georgia and brought changes in the way of life and prosperity of the area. The Southern Railway connected Murphy to Asheville in 1891. Ten years later, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad station was dedicated at Murphy. The L&N Depot, now refurbished, stands as a testimonial to those bygone days.

In 1922, the first paved road opened from Murphy to the Georgia line. Five years earlier, the town of Murphy began getting paved streets.

In 1935, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) authorized the construction of the Hiwassee Dam, which began later that year and was completed in 1940. The dam created a body of water covering nearly 6,090 acres, and was the highest overspill type dam in the world.

The Southern Appalachian Mountains are believed to be among the oldest on the planet. As early as 1540, the mountains and valleys now known as Cherokee County were explored by Hernando DeSoto and inhabited by the Cherokee Indians. The great Tennessee, Hiwassee, and Valley Rivers were mined for gold as evidenced by old tunnels, shafts, Spanish cannon balls, pistols bearing a Spanish coat-of-arms and coin molds found along their river banks.

In the early 1800s, as the white man coveted the rich lands and beautiful swift rivers of western North Carolina, President Andrew Jackson sent 7,000 troops into Western North Carolina who built six forts to oversee the removal of the Cherokee Indians to Oklahoma. The largest of these was Fort Butler, built at the present site of Murphy on the Hiwassee River. The removal of the Cherokees along the "Trail of Tears" was described and recorded as "the greatest blot on America's history." More than 4,000 Native Americans died before they reached Oklahoma. Indians who were able to elude their captors hid in the hills and were later granted lands in Cherokee County.

As the white settlers built their forts and towns on the rivers, they farmed near the streams and creeks, and built dams to produce power to operate tub mills, grind flour, and create flumes for mining gold. Logging became the first industry in the area and primary means of making a living. Logs flowed down the rivers to the sawmills; rafts, flatboats, and canoes brought in supplies. As early as 1820, a Baptist mission school was established at the Old Natchez Town on the Hiwassee River and the first Methodist Church, Harshaw Chapel (a standing historic site) was built in Murphy in 1869.

In 1861, Cherokee County raised 1,100 men for the Confederate Army as the state seceded from the Union. In 1865, Kirk's Raiders burned the county court house in Murphy (the first of four court house fires between 1865 and 1926). The present court house, now over seventy years old, is constructed of solid masonry and blue marble quarried from the county. Following the Civil War, in 1888, the way of life changed for the better with the introduction of the railroad.

In 1922, the first paved highway opened from Murphy to the Georgia state line and the Asheville to Murphy highway opened in 1926. In 1936, The Tennessee Valley Authority started construction of the Hiwassee Dam. The Hiwassee, Valley, and Nottely Rivers and their tributaries provided an abundant supply of water to the dam and in 1938, one hundred years after the first families settled in this county, the whole face of these mountains changed when the lights came on in nearly every home, barn, and store in the county.

The life of the mountainfolk changed with the introduction of electricity. Progress caught up with the quiet, simple, and proud, yet harsh mountain way of life. Over 3,000 people lived in the area when Cherokee County was formed in 1839. By 1860, the population had grown to over 9,000. Today's population is over 27,000, yet Cherokee County still maintains a quiet, simple, and proud mountain way of life.

The people of Cherokee County are proud of their heritage and proudly maintain seven properties on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of these are public and can be visited, while others are privately owned. Call the Chamber of Commerce for information about visiting those that are of interest to you.

* Valleytown Cultural Arts Center-Andrews
* John C. Campbell Folk School Historic District- Brasstown
* John Franklin Cobb House - Bellview
* Cherokee County Courthouse - Murphy
* Robert Lafayette Cooper House - Murphy
* Franklin Pierce Cover House - Andrews
* Harshaw Chapel and Cemetery - Murphy
* The Walker Inn - Andrews

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